This goes under the people-always-ask-me hashtag #howdoyoudoit? How do you get home from a stressful, drama-coworker, overtime-ridden day at work, a Seattle-area traffic commute, then go out and do farm chores before eating dinner at 8pm (or later)?

I admit, on rainy, cold days, often I hesitate to go out. When I come home wearing my frail office Khakis and a semi-dress jacket, I shiver at the bitter winter cold (bitter, for us, my East Coast friends, is sub-forty…). I’m reluctant to embrace my farmy chores. But of course it’s mandatory, no avoiding it, animals need to be fed, no-matter-what. So, I suit-up in sweatpants, a hoodie, a flannel jacket; and my Muck Boots, toasty off the boot drier. And, out I go.

And then, there is this. Silence; clean air, and this nighttime view of almost nothingness. The whole world shrinks a thousand fold. It’s like submerging undersea from a metropolis land view, passing through a veil.

Darkness, acres of blackness, punctuated by distant city lights in a 180 degree arc of our valley view of Snohomish and Everett. And normally pure silence, except for these last couple of weeks, thousands of frogs are starting to sing in earnest. (Sorry, again, to our East Coast friends who probably feel nowhere near spring right now.)

I do my evening chores by headlamp from November through March, bracketed by Daylight Savings Time beginning and ending. There is a pain-in-the-butt, inconvenient aspect of not being able to see ten feet beyond your lamp. But then, there is a really isolating, grounding aspect of not being able to see ten feet beyond your lamp. Your focus becomes really narrow. Just the sheep, dozens of pairs of reflective eyeballs in a group, their noses at the feeder, the hay bales, the dog’s faces asking for attention once they’ve eaten their dinners.

Everything beyond that is just blackness. Sight becomes the third-wheel sense. The only noises are the frogs, an occasional sheep whad-up, a band of coyotes whipping-it-up in the woods for a chorus or two, maybe a lone car driving by, and then gone. The splash and swish of a sneaky, dog-food-eating rat swimming away from me in a ditch stops my ear and eye, it’s the only thing in urgent motion at the moment.

I often realize the air. How it is so clean and green that it makes you want to breathe deep, something I probably haven’t done all day while in the office. I never notice that office air is bad, but I do notice how good farm air can be; like I’ve been missing something and I can’t get enough of it in.

The next thing I notice is I’m not cold. Something about doing some reasonable physical activity, like loading a few hay bales, that seems to warm a person. And, wearing proper clothes for the weather. Warm boots, a hood, a good zippered jacket. I went from freezing-cold leaving the office to feeling like it’s pretty balmy outside. Even a bit of rain is no big deal.

The office politics start to atrophy. Really, coworker-lady-who-always-makes-a-stink? Is your sorority office drama that life-or-death? Do you know how to birthe a lamb, butcher a chicken, fix a broken pipe, grow a cucumber, train a dog, give an injection, build a feeder, drive a backhoe, wire an outlet, buck a bale, hobble a ram, shoot a rifle, read a soil profile? Yeah, I thought so. It’s all in your perspective, what’s important.

All of a sudden, I’m not feeling the chores are burdensome, I’m not even in a hurry to get them done. Rather, I want to linger, look at the sheep’s’ widening bodies a little more, think about upcoming tasks, the lambs, the breedings, the metrics, the summer crop, what’s next.

I smell hay, fling scratch for the chickens to enjoy, pat the dogs before they move on from dinner to other priorities. Life shifts from third gear to first. Everything gets real again, back to basics: food, air, water, weather, animals, plants, day, night, hard work. And I realize, every twenty-four hours, the question people ask me is backwards. It’s not how do you do it? Its rather, how do you not?

Ewes and frogs at night.
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